footbridge between Randall's and Ward's islands.
Randall's and Ward's Islands
Population: Approximately 300 people at the homeless
shelter and psychiatric center.
Directions: Take the footbridge on East 103rd
Street in Manhattan. Or, by car or bus, take the Triborough
Bridge from either East Harlem or Astoria, Queens
Size: 0.75 sq. mi. (1.94 sq. km.)
Origin of current names: Jonathan Randal, and
Jasper and Bartholomew Ward owned the islands in the
Previous names: Tenkenas (to c. 1790), Randall's
and Ward's (c. 1790-present)
Current use: Recreational and entertainment space,
Manhattan Psychiatric Center, Charles H. Gay Homeless
Shelter, Fire Department Academy and the Deptartment
of Environmental Protection's water treatment facility.
An Oasis of Green Space
By Sean Alfano
and rehabilitation have
been themes of Randall's and Ward's islands' history for more than
100 years. Situated between the Harlem and East rivers, the island's
more than 500 acres are composed of baseball diamonds and soccer
fields, as well as a state psychiatric hospital and a homeless shelter.
1855, the City of New York acquired three separate land masses between
Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx: Randall's Island, named after its
previous owner Jonathan Randal; Ward's Island, named after Jasper
and Bartholomew Ward and a marsh called Sunken Meadows. Over the
years, the debris from construction projects filled in the space
between the three islands.
most notable project that generated deposits was the building, from
October 1929 until July 1936, of the Triborough Bridge, between
Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. Although the land masses are now
one island, the northern part is still known as Randall's Island,
while the southern section is called Ward's. The Hell Gate Bridge,
which traverses the island, allows trains to get from Queens to
the South Bronx. When it opened in 1916, it was the longest steel
arch bridge in the world.
was not all that was dumped. The island became a repository for
people considered undesirable to mainstream society. The city first
used the island as a potter's field - a public burial ground for
dead people without family or friends to claim them. Later, the
city built a shelter for impoverished immigrants and an insane asylum
on the island.
the 1930s, Robert Moses, New York City's infamous parks commissioner,
wanted to turn both islands into a giant recreational area. But
Moses was not persuasive enough, and instead, New York State built
the Manhattan Psychiatric Center on the area previously occupied
by the insane asylum. In addition to the hospital, other institutional
buildings include the New York City Fire Academy, a homeless men's
shelter, a water treatment plant and a maintenance garage for the
Parks Department's vehicles and equipment. <Click
here to see a timeline of Randall's and Ward's history>
island still has plenty of green space, though. It is a popular
destination on weekend afternoons for picnics and concerts. A new
entertainment and sports complex is set to open in the spring of
2004 to replace Downing Stadium, which was demolished in 2000.
island is one of New Yorks's most accessible islands. Pedestrians
can access it from the East 103rd Street footbridge in Manhattan,
the Triborough Bridge entrance on East 125th Street in Manhattan
and Astoria Boulevard in Queens.
listed as a New York City park, Mill Rock Island is roughly 8.5
acres of vacant land located south of Randall's and Ward's islands
where the East and Harlem rivers converge. The island is accessible
only by boat. Mill Rock is most notable for its use as an American
fort during the War of 1812. The Army Corps of Engineers used to
make and test explosives there.